Democratic Convention: Secret Service, Chicago Police Step Up Preparations as Protests Loom


The Secret Service and Chicago police are ramping up preparations for the Democratic National Convention in August, with agents receiving training ranging from First Amendment rights to handling violent protests and mass arrests.

Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle traveled to Chicago this week to tour the United Center, where the prime-time televised speeches will take place, and McCormick Place, the convention center where the party will conduct its business during the day.

The convention, which runs Aug. 19-22, is expected to draw a crowd of 50,000 visitors — including delegates, media, vendors and more — and it’s also sure to spark huge protests.

Democrats are set to nominate President Joe Biden for re-election at their convention in Chicago. But recent protests across the country against Biden’s support for Israel’s war in Gaza have raised the specter of a repeat of the 1968 Democratic Convention, which saw violent clashes between Chicago police and anti-government protesters. -Vietnam War.

On Monday, Cheatle addressed nearly 100 agents from the Secret Service’s Chicago field office in a closed-door meeting. The Chicago field office also covers Milwaukee, where the Republicans will hold their convention in July, so the team planned both rallies.

Cheatle said in an interview that law enforcement officials prepare for a wide range of scenarios.

“The only shooter,” Cheatle said. “There are people who are radicalized, there are protests that can break out and, you know, obviously we hope they stay peaceful here, but they could, you know, become violent.”

The official security perimeter for this summer’s convention has not yet been detailed. The city of Chicago, meanwhile, is negotiating protest routes with groups that filed a federal lawsuit after the city denied their protest permits.

The Chicago Police Department’s Crime Prevention and Information Center will serve as the command center to monitor all convention-related events throughout the city, including protests. The command center will also include representatives from the Secret Service, Illinois State Police, FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Federal and local authorities closely monitor threats from domestic and foreign extremist groups. A recent joint intelligence bulletin from the National Counterterrorism Center, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI warned that groups including al-Qaeda and ISIS continue to generate propaganda urging their followers to carry out “lone wolf” attacks. » on American soil using basic methods such as shooting at crowded locations or ramming vehicles. The bulletin cites an online al-Qaeda propaganda article that highlighted “the growing division between the American people, between the right and the left, and between the Republicans and their supporters, and the Democrats and their supporters.” which could increase the impact of any bill. attack.

“I think everyone feels the threats are real. This is not an academic exercise that we are carrying out. We anticipate concrete possibilities,” said Jeff Burnside, Secret Service coordinator for the Democratic convention.

Meanwhile, Chicago police officers have conducted drills on a wide range of potential scenarios, including violent protests, extracting individuals from hostile crowds, medical emergencies and more. Cycling teams prepared to move quickly through the city to form barricades if necessary.

Officers also receive constitutional and legal training on First Amendment protest rights and procedures if mass arrests are necessary.

However, Chicago police leaders hope the hundreds of hours of training, including de-escalation tactics, will help avoid clashes with protesters.

“We don’t want to have conflicts with people if we don’t have to. We don’t want to run into people if we don’t have to,” Chicago Police Superintendent Larry Snelling said. “If people come here to express themselves, by all means do so, but do it within the law and do it peacefully. It’s so simple. Once you start breaking the law, then… we need to restore peace.

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